Richmond, VA (September 8, 2012) – With the race to the Chase culminating at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night, several drivers needed to have strong performances in order to keep their Chase hopes alive. Thankfully, Matt Kenseth and his No. 17 Best Buy team had clinched their berth into the Chase before heading into the weekend at Richmond which allowed them to focus on having a good race without the added pressure to qualify in. A soggy night in Richmond found NASCAR’s top series patiently wait out several passing showers, but eventually the race completed all of its 400 laps, and Kenseth earned a top-five finish in the process.
Kenseth began the 400-lap race from the 17th starting position as the field had to start under green and yellow conditions. After the first six laps, NASCAR brought out the green flag on lap seven once the track was dried and ready to go. Kenseth quickly jumped from 17th up to 11th within the opening run, but he radioed in to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that he needed more front grip in the Best Buy Ford. Kenseth also said that the No. 17 started out good, but that the middle got too tight and the front tires were sliding.
NASCAR called a competition caution after lap 45, and Fennig called his driver down pit road on lap 48 for four tires, fuel, and air pressure adjustments on the first pit stop of the evening. Kenseth restarted eighth which meant that he was on the high line for the start which put him at a disadvantage on the restart. By lap 60, Kenseth was back in 16th still stuck up top trying to fight his way back onto the bottom line.
The Best Buy Ford continued to have loose-handling conditions and Kenseth told his team that he was also losing speed due to the looseness. A caution for rain came on lap 139 and Kenseth pitted for four tires, fuel, air pressure and wedge adjustments. NASCAR officials then brought out the red flag for 52 minutes while rain passed over the area.
Once the track was dry and ready to return to racing, Kenseth restarted 11th and still continued to fight the looseness in his Ford. Fennig and the Best Buy crew made adjustments over the middle portion of the race aimed at helping their driver with handling in the turns and trying to provide Kenseth with more front grip.
Kenseth was able to break his way into the top ten and maintained that position, and even drove his way back onto the lead lap after being lapped, ultimately finishing fifth Saturday night.
“I think the team is good in shape,” commented Kenseth after the race. “We have been having great days on pit road, made pretty good adjustments, and really made something out of I don't want to say nothing, but we didn't have a great car and Jimmie and them guys did a great job on pit road, strategy and adjustments and got us a top five. So we've had a couple decent weeks. I can't wait to go to Chicago and race there. We definitely know we need to win some races to have a shot at this thing so hopefully we can have a shot next week.”
Clint Bowyer claimed the victory Saturday night at Richmond after his team gambled on fuel and crossed the line just in the nick of time. Bowyer ran out of fuel as he was attempting to do his winning burnout. Jeff Gordon rallied back to earn the runner-up position and Mark Martin rounded out the top three finishers. Kenseth scored his tenth top-five finish of the season in the Best Buy Ford and when the Chase point standings were reshuffled, Kenseth is eighth as the series heads to Chicago next weekend.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for the first race of the Chase, the GEICO 400. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, September 16th at 1:00 p.m. EST on ESPN. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN.)